I need to have a rant, do you mind?
Please note: this doesn’t change what I said in my last post, about enjoying my job and loving my life here, you understand. It just means that the communication issues and cultural differences must eventually come to a head and cause me to have a meltdown. And it turns out that sometimes I need a place where I can vent without accidentally punching my boss in the face and getting deported.
Like today. I don’t know whether it’s that the school director (who, despite what you are about to read, I actually really like) and I just don’t understand each others’ version of English, or that things are done so differently here that I can’t catch on to them, or that I really am an afterthought when it comes to informing staff of changes to the schedule and so on, but it’s incredibly frustrating. I learned very quickly that I had to ask very carefully-worded questions, preferably rephrasing them several times, in order to get the information I required from her. But sometimes, even that doesn’t seem to stop misunderstandings from arising.
Today, the children are having graduation photos taken. Yes, graduation. From kindergarten. Don’t get me started. Just keep to your schedule as normal, said Jennifer this morning – not directly to me, obviously, but through a colleague bearing a post-it. When you hear the announcement, come down with the children.
Fine. Obviously my first class at 9.50am didn’t turn up, having received completely different information than me, so rather than walk into their homeroom and end up looking like an idiot as has happened before, I went down to check with Jennifer that I understood the situation correctly. Ah, she said when she saw me, we will have teacher group photo at 10am, please come down then. I processed this new information. So, I said very slowly and carefully, holding up the class workbook, I will teach them as normal, now… but only for ten minutes? She nodded. I will go to them, I will teach for ten minutes (fingers were held up as a back-up), and then I will come down here at 10 for a photo? She nodded. Yes, yes, she said in the way she always does regardless of whether she knows what’s just been asked.
I raced up to my class, who were happily watching a movie or something with their teacher, and explained to a chorus of groans that we were going to have an English lesson instead. By the time everyone got their books and were all on the same page and ready to start, it was about 3 minutes to 10. I raced through a couple of pages, and then said OK…. I’ve got to go… photo… I don’t know when or if I’ll be back… sorry” and left them all looking utterly confused.
Not as confused as Jennifer, who looked blankly at me when I hurtled into the office and said I was sorry I was a little late for the photo. Don’t you have a class now? she asked.
Arrrrrghhhhhh!!! I screamed, slamming my hand down on her desk and stamping my feet like a child having a temper tantrum. No, not really. That would have been lovely though. Instead, I looked equally blankly at her and said carefully, so there is no photo at 10?
No, says she, we will call you after lunch for photo. I gazed wordlessly at her before dashing back up to my class, just in time to see the last child put away his book and join the others in front of the TV to recommence watching their movie after their 3-minute English lesson. I’m still not entirely sure that I was meant to be there, and I’m pretty sure the kids hate me and their teacher thinks I’m an idiot, since I disrupted their lazy morning twice and couldn’t explain anything to them. Not that I would have been able to explain the situation even if I could speak their language.
So then my next class also fails to turn up, and I go to get them, finding them unusually reluctant to come with me. I am just ushering the last protesting child out through the door, clutching an armful of books, when one of the children comes running along the corridor, followed by Jennifer, who has been fetched to explain to me that these kids are having their photos taken now. But… but… you told me normal schedule… I splutter, utterly exasperated and feeling more and more foolish by the moment – even the kids know what’s going on. Sorry, she says with an equally confused look, as if I’m the one messing everything up, do you have a class now? Which one?
THIS ONE!!!!! I practically howl, overwhelmed by a strong urge to laugh hysterically or hit her. No, not now, she says mildly, turning her attention to the children. The room is filled with Korean conversation. Once again I have no idea what’s going on. I drop the pile of books on the nearest desk with only slightly less aggression than I would like, and storm upstairs to my classroom, where I mutter dark threats to the wall and wonder if anyone would even notice my absence if I left school, went to the shop, bought cigarettes, and sat in the rain and chain-smoked.
Everyone else always seems to know what’s going on. Why don’t I? What else can sentences like “come down at 10am” and “keep to your schedule as normal” possibly mean? Why must I always end up looking like an eejit? Why can’t I learn to interpret Konglish? Why can’t someone just say “I don’t understand what you mean?” or “no, you’ve got that wrong”, instead of going “yes, yes” at everything?
I took a short break in the middle of writing this post to go have lunch. At the end of said meal, Jennifer leaned across the table to me and said Did you give David (one of my elementary class children) homework? Front pages? I looked blankly at her. His mother she call me and say he has no homework. You know, front pages?
I continued to look blankly at her. For a start, this “front pages” business made as much sense to me as it does to you reading about it now, having had no previous information about it. This is what statements and questions here are like about 95% of the time, random words and phrases that I am apparently expected to understand, and I am the slowest in the world at figuring out the real meaning, so I just end up staring dumbly or stammering confusedly. Secondly, this was all being asked in a tone of voice that could well have been used were she actually saying “David’s mother is complaining about you because you did not give him the front pages homework that I specifically told you to give him. Why are you disobeying my direct orders?”.
I began summoning up the last remaining dregs of my sanity and patience, and started carefully asking what she was talking about, at which point a Korean teacher breezed in, planted herself between us, and just started jabbering away loudly to Jennifer. It was as if I wasn’t even there. I’m pretty sure that she heard English, thought “Oh, well, those are just nonsensical words, that can’t be a real conversation!” and decided to treat it as such. I sat there open-mouthed for a second, and then just got up with clenched fists and walked out. I slammed my classroom door so loudly that it echoed along the whole corridor and down two flights of stairs.
I know that it now seems to you like I’m losing it at really small things, but you have to understand that this is pretty much every day. Every day, I’m given the wrong information or none at all, every day I’m looked at as if I’m insane, every day I’m talked over and interrupted simply because my colleagues seem to be genuinely incapable of hearing English conversation, every day I’m thrown into some sort of confusing incident.
And every day I laugh, ignore it, say “never mind!” and go on with a bright smile. I’ve been learning to stop taking things personally, because if I’d been taking everything to heart in the way that I used to, I would probably have had a nervous breakdown at least a month ago. I no longer go home and dwell on hurtful comments or annoying incidents or ridiculous misunderstandings, partly because I know that it’s a cultural thing and not a personal thing, and partly because there are so many every day that if I did dwell on them, I would have no time left for anything else. So I’ve become very good at instantly dismissing matters from my mind and moving on with a laugh.
Well, screw that. Today, I am hormonal and it is the wrong damn day for so many insanely stupid incidents to occur. I am bloody well going to go home and cry tonight, and possibly kick some sturdy items of furniture, and maybe also pour myself a stiff drink even though it’s only Wednesday. There is no sodding Cadbury’s chocolate in this stupid town, and they won’t change my work computer’s language to English for me, and my neighbours have sex far too loudly, and and my hair is all in my eyes and I can’t go for a haircut for fear of what might be the result of a linguistic misunderstanding there.
Wow, I needed that. Normal service will resume post-PMS. Thanks for listening.